Railroad Accident Report - Collision of National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak Train 59 With a Loaded Truck-Semitrailer Combination at a Highway/Rail Grade Crossing

Bourbonnais, Illinois
March 15, 1999

NTSB Number: RAR-02-01
NTIS Number: PB2002-916301
Adopted February 5, 2002
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Executive Summary

About 9:47 p.m. on March 15, 1999, National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) train 59, with 207 passengers and 21 Amtrak or other railroad employees on board and operating on Illinois Central Railroad (IC) main line tracks, struck and destroyed the loaded trailer of a tractor-semitrailer combination that was traversing the McKnight Road grade crossing in Bourbonnais, Illinois. Both locomotives and 11 of the 14 cars in the Amtrak consist derailed. The derailed Amtrak cars struck 2 of 10 freight cars that were standing on an adjacent siding. The accident resulted in 11 deaths and 122 people being transported to local hospitals. Total Amtrak equipment damages were estimated at $14 million, and damages to track and associated structures were estimated to be about $295,000.

Probable Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the collision between Amtrak train 59 and a truck tractor-semitrailer combination vehicle at the McKnight Road grade crossing in Bourbonnais, Illinois, was the truckdriver's inappropriate response to the grade crossing warning devices and his judgment, likely impaired by fatigue, that he could cross the tracks before the arrival of the train. Contributing to the accident was Melco Tranfer, Inc.'s failure to provide driver oversight sufficient to detect or prevent driver fatigue as a result of excessive driving or on-duty periods.

The safety issues identified during this investigation are as follows:

  • Truckdriver performance;
  • Emergency response; and
  • Signal system performance.

As a result of this investigation, the Safety Board makes safety recommendations to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Railroad Administration, all class I and regional railroads, Amtrak, the International Association of Fire Fighters, and the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

Recommendations

As a result of its investigation of the March 15, 1999, grade crossing accident in Bourbonnais, Illinois, the National Transportation Safety Board makes the following safety recommendations:

New Recommendations

To the U.S. Department of Transportation:

Provide Federal highway safety incentive grants to States to advance innovative pilot programs designed to increase enforcement of grade crossing traffic laws at both active and passive crossings. (H-02-1)

To the Federal Railroad Administration:

For all railroads that install new or upgraded grade crossing warning systems that include crossing gates and that are equipped with event recorders, require that the information captured by those event recorders include the position of the deployed gates. (R-02-1)

To All Class I Railroads:

To All Regional Railroads:

For all your new and upgraded grade crossing warning systems that include crossing gates and that are equipped with event recorders, ensure that the information captured by those event recorders includes the position of the deployed gates. (R-02-2)

To the National Railroad Passenger Corporation:

In fulfilling your Federal mandate to help prepare emergency responders to respond to an accident involving Amtrak equipment, emphasize to those responders the possibility that such an accident could result in large quantities of burning diesel fuel and urge them to be prepared to respond to this specific hazard. (R-02-3)

To the International Association of Fire Fighters:

To the International Association of Fire Chiefs:

Inform your membership of the circumstances surrounding the emergency response to the March 15, 1999, grade crossing accident in Bourbonnais, Illinois, and of the need for responders to prepare for train accidents that may result in significant diesel fuel fires. (R-02-4)

Recommendations Reclassified in This Report

To the U.S. Department of Transportation:

H-98-29
Provide Federal highway safety incentive grants to States to advance innovative pilot programs designed to increase enforcement of passive grade crossing traffic laws.

Safety Recommendation H-98-29, previously classified "Open-Acceptable Response" is reclassified "Closed-Superseded" in the "Reducing Traffic Violations at Grade Crossings" section of this report.